Richard Blackford: Voices of Exile

In 1992 I recorded a 15-year-old girl refugee in the Kalighat slum area of Calcutta. Her village had been destroyed by drought and she, like hundreds of thousands, lived on Calcutta’s streets. When her family left her village they had to walk for days and consequently could take none of their few possessions. All she could bring with her, she said, were her songs. For Kamla the songs were her link with her village, her past and her culture – they represented a part of her dignity. Although at the time I did not know it, I felt that one day I would write a work that would incorporate Kamla’s beautiful song and the stories of others like her.

Thirteen years later the political debate on refugees and asylum seekers often seems to overlook the fact that these people are individuals, not statistics or political footballs. Voices of Exile makes no overt political point; it tries rather to give voice to a wide-ranging group of writers who have suffered exile, prison, sometimes torture, and who can give an insight into the shared experience of the refugee. It is an uncomfortable subject, yet one which, after being introduced to the work of the Medical Foundation and Prisoners of Conscience in 2000, I decided to make the theme of Voices of Exile.



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"Blackford's orchestral sonorities are fresh, assured and finely calculated." Gramophone, July 2014

"Starry forces combine to give a concentrated performance of Blackford's brooding medetation on the refugee experience, setting texts in 13 languages." BBC Music Magazine June 2014

“This is a fine choral work that deserves to be heard often. The tragedy that underlies Voices of Exile is, if anything, more prevalent in the world today that ever, making this such an apposite work. One of the additional benefits of this work is to introduce us to poets that, perhaps would not normally be widely heard, encouraging us to explore further. David Hill and his forces provide a first rate performance and the recording from the Abbey Road Studios, London in 2005 is excellent. The taped passages are remarkably well integrated into the music. There are informative booklet notes by the composer and full English texts.”

"Richard Blackford proves a composer with something valid to say, and he says it with uncompromising poignancy in Voices of Exile. The work’s subject matter inspired the composer to produce a score of ambivalent but apposite beauty, and that score inspired a masterful group of musicians to a performance that meaningfully intones the songs of voices silenced by inhumanity. It is a performance that memorializes the basic longing of people for connection and endurance with vivid musicality. In ways large and small, the voices of exile are the voices of all men, and Voices of Exile enables them to be heard over the cacophony of injustice that would extinguish them." Joseph Newsome, Voix-des-Arts, April 2014. To read the full review visit:

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